Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Asking for Flowers

Asking for Flowers – Kathleen Edwards (listen in a new tab)

Ithica Street is usually quiet by 11:00 PM on most Saturdays. This Saturday is different. The neighborhood seems busier, a little more activity, though there are more “For Lease” and “For Sale by Owner” signs than Brae remembers.

People smoke outside the front doors of the bars, Ithica’s strip of hip little holes in the walls. Most of them are fly by night. A few have survived for a few years now. The smokers talk loudly. Brae walks past them, moving in and out of the weak light from the windows. Inside, shadows clink and churn conversations. One of the smokers checks her out and casually taps his friend’s shoulder. She ignores them as she thumbs through emails on her smart phone.

She’s happy to be back in Toronto. The air is damp and familiar. Chicago was too dry, so she came back early. She is looking forward to seeing G.T. and that’s why she’s here and not sleeping at her apartment.

G.T. hadn’t answered his phone. She called K. He was a little drunk. He first reported about his couch and how comfy it was and then told her G.T. was helping Claire close the café.

She pushes open the door to Café Ulysses and is momentarily surprised that it’s unlocked.

The door chime rings absently.

Winston Churchill (Or someone like him, someone famous for power, maybe overweight from age and stress, mouth drooping with jowly wisdom), said something like that in great tragedy the ifs pile up quickly. It’s as if hindsight is the locked fire door of our memory.

In lesser matters, this adage is also true.

If Brae had come sooner. If G.T. had answered his phone. If the song on the café’s stereo hadn’t been so perfect. If it hadn’t had a one-hour melodrama’s precision, reminding her that life does not let you cut away to the next scene. Only slow time is allowed to edit.

If Claire had opened her eyes a moment or two sooner. If she had waited and locked the door before she tugged G.T. to her hips, grabbing him by the silk screened wool tie she’d bought him on a date in Kensington Market (Her hand pressed the light blue airplanes into against an 80s plaid sky.).

If G.T. hadn’t sauntered in as Claire was shooing out the last customers, swaggering in on a couple pints, with soft eyes, looking for Claire.

He’d been out with K. Maura has been gone for a few weeks now. K, for the first few days, was a dense ball of confusion and self-directed frustration. He was loosened now. But, G.T. was helping with the Saturday nights. Claire knew those can be the worst for the newly single, especially now that she and G.T. were so overtly getting to be a couple. G.T., in an act of school boy loyalty, would not let K feel like the odd man out.

If he’d stayed out drinking another hour.

If G.T. had just told Brae the truth. “When she gets back. It’s not fair over the phone.” Claire had conceded the point in good faith.

But, hindsight comes after.

When Brae walks in, Claire is firmly in G.T.’s arms. His back is to the door. Claire presses him against the cash counter. He’s lifted her up onto her tip-toes as they kiss. Hearing the door, Claire’s eyes open, her mouth still pressed to G.T.’s. Their lips, a little wet, warm from the pressure and…

She sees Brae standing there with her hands at her side, purse dangling from her left hand. Brae’s mouth is open, not gaping, slowly closing into a steel trap. Her eyes, shocked open at first, narrow.

Claire pulls her head back. “Brae.”

G.T.: “What? Really? You want to talk about that now? She’s in Chicago doing research.”

Brae: “I came back, Gregory.” Her voice is sharp, stripped of the ditsy effervescence that drives Claire insane. Her words are scraped, adult. Claire barely recognizes them as Brae’s.

At this point, G.T. practically drops Claire, who stumbles back against the sinks. He turns around. Claire watches him shift on his feet. She knows he’s trying to think of something to say.

For some reason, he takes a page from K’s book of crisis resolution tactics and tries to charm his way out. “This is awkward,” he says. Claire can only see the back of his head, but can picture his smile, in his eyes a little flicker, a façade of goof-ball congeniality.

But, his voice wavers and Brae pounces. “Not for me… In fact, it makes things a lot simpler, asshole.”

Claire is taken aback. She had never heard Brae swear in anger before. “Hey now, let’s be civil, here.”

Brae: “Hey now? I don’t want to hear from you, Miss Complicity.”

Claire backs down. “Fair.”

G.T. “Brae, I… Fair? Really?” He looks back at Claire who shrugs.

Claire: “Well, I am complicit.”

Brae: “Ok, you two. Listen very carefully to me.” She points at G.T. “You and I are very, very through. I can’t imagine how easy a fucking phone call would have been.” Then her finger darts at Claire. Brae stops, her eyes flash with rage. Her mind plays each clue like the last five minutes of an Agatha Christie film. “You. I can’t even think how I couldn’t have predicted this.” She looks for a moment like she has more to say, but then says nothing.

She wants to fall through the floor, now. She’s raged, been pithy and sharp, and now she can’t find a way to leave fast enough. Her eyes are wet. She just wants to cry.

G.T.: “Brae, I… it just happened.” He can’t think of anything better to say?

Brae: “I’m not stupid.” She wipes her eye with the back of her free hand. “Don’t call me, ok?” Her voice cracks. She turns and leaves. Forgets to slam the door.

She collapses into tears in an alley down the street, leaning against a dark brick wall where no one can see her. One of the neighbourhood stray cats appears from behind a pile of boxes. It is a wad of mangy grey fur. It comes over to her, rolls onto it’s back in front of her. Brae sits on the ground. She rubs the strange animal’s stomach as she cries. It purrs in reciprocation.

Thursday, June 10, 2010


Runaway – the National (listen in new tab)

Maura sits on her couch in her apartment. Her hand hovers in front of her, holding her cell phone. It is heavy, silent and portentous in her palm.

She looks around. In the last hours, she’d cleaned everything. She hadn’t realized what she was doing until she started folding shirts into her faded and stained travel backpack. The bag, swollen with necessities sits beside her like an awkward prom date. It waits to be carried off.

But first, she has to call K. Saturday he’d shown up and she’d told him to wait. That was four days ago. It is now Tuesday. 6:30 PM. The sixth day since she slept a full night. She is dulled to a blunt edge. Her mind is a dam that is quickly becoming a colander. So she sits on her couch with her bag packed. Phone in hand.

But, she can’t think of what to say or how to start to say it.

Sunday, she’d gone to Aunt Jenny’s grave and sat there in a light rain (god, just like the movies). She’d brought a mickey of the whiskey, the kind Jenny kept in a cupboard in the kitchen. Jenny was always ready to pull down two glasses and grease the wheels of conversation.

Maura poured some out onto the new grass. She asked questions in the cliché way people in grief and fear always ask them. “What the fuck should I do?” Maura really meant: “How do make my life right again?’

The rain pattering on her nylon jacket roared silence. Of course, Jenny said nothing. The dead have lots of advice, but share it unevenly. Jenny was always like that. Ready to show Maura something she needed, rather than say it. Jenny had the sort of intuition that knows somehow which connections are required. She never seemed to do things without a reason. She had a body that moved with adumbrate purpose, even when she made tea to talk over.

“You’re a lot of help, right now.” Maura patted the soft, wet soil. She looked at the dirt clinging to her palm and then at the drops congealing on the granite headstone.

Years ago, Jenny was there at the airport when Maura finally came back to Canada. Maura, the last of the wandering O’Bairds, tired and sore, practically a foreigner, was pulled roughly to Jenny’s chest.

When she came back, Maura was tight and red-eyed. Sore from sitting and unused to the August smog that hung heavy over Pearson Airport. They didn’t go to Jenny’s boxy little condo, that kingdom of cats. Instead, Jenny took her out of the city. Along the 401 and then Highway 7. North and then east.

It was night when they arrived. Stars above. The air was damp with moisture caught in the rustling crooked arms of the trees. Their leaves shone bright white in the headlights.

The last thing the O’Baird family owns outright is the old stone house near Lakefield. Titus’s dad had built it before he sold the family’s warehouses and retreated from the sweeping changes of the 20th century. Sturdy, if a little squat, the house carries the weight of a century on the collected thickness of its walls.

Maura has been to older places. One night in Cairo, she and a random friend had snuck past guards to climb a pyramid. The yellowed stones, chiseled and worn, made her fell disconnected. They had nothing to do with her. She was an interloper.

Standing in the Kwartha’s night air, Maura ran her hands along the mortared rocks, her ears filled with the incessant chirping of crickets. The stones as they bled the day’s heat, exhaled something so deeply familiar that it shattered the rough lies she told herself. She was indicted, lovingly.

That first night Jenny helped Maura, exhausted and truculently weeping, into bed. The next day they worked. Cleaning and fixing. Clearing old paths and fighting the encroaching forest.

After a few weeks, Jenny went back to the city. She returned on her days off to check up and talk. Meanwhile, the weather cooled. Maura would cut firewood and cook on the woodstove. She’d bike ten kilometers to get a newspaper. Otherwise, there was only the radio and an old eclectic library.

In October, Maura was almost out of money and started serving drinks at one of the bars in town. As the winter got harsher, Uncle Titus loaned her an old white Tercel for the drive to work and for groceries.

That stone house grew around her, as she made a small life in the forest. For years she had been running, and she wasn’t sure what had made her stop and come back. Fatigue, maybe. Something more deeply attenuated than tired. Surrounded by the old growth fur on the back of the Canadian Shield, she slept unassailed. The family’s home breathed around her (an affect of the weather, but she dreamt of warm lungs more than once).

Maura came back to Toronto and slowly added more and more of a life around her. Until now. She was back to essentials crammed into a backpack. All the life you can carry with you. She looks around. Than back at the nylon bag beside her. It’s not much. Or enough.

There is a knock at the door. It’s unlocked and Uncle Titus slides in. “It’s dark in here.”

Maura shrugs. “I hadn’t noticed.”

Titus rubs his chin. Maura can hear the small scratch of his fingers across his grey scruff. He digs into his pocket. He pulls out a set of car keys and tosses them over to her. “She runs as bad as ever. Which is to say she runs. Do you need help with your bag?”

“Nah. I can carry it.”

“Right. Did you call K?”

Maura smiles despite herself. “You’re as bad as your sister.”

He scratches his head. “Maybe so. Jenny said he’s pretty much in love with you.”

“When did she say that? K hasn’t said so.”

“Not everything is said out loud or to you. Have you said anything like that to him?”

“Are you drunk?”

“I own a bar. Anyways, you have to drive me there. It’s unguarded, except for Miguel.” Titus twirls a finger next to his ear. “You know how he is.”

“I’ll be down in a second. I’m going to call him now.”

Titus knows this is his cue to leave, but first he darts in and grabs Maura pack. He closes the door behind him.

Maura looks at her phone, taps in K’s number with her thumb instead of fishing him out other contacts list. She’s sorry to disappoint Jenny’s machinations.

* * *

K and GT are at Cymbeline’s having a celebratory breakfast-for-supper. GT is a free man, cut loose from his long hated job, and he knows K needs to be distracted. GT watches him fidget with his cell phone. K twirls it in circles on the table. It goes in and out of pockets.

GT: “I don’t know. She’s gonna call.”

K waves the phone at him, looks at it with contrition, places it on the table. “How’d you guess?” He frowns and scratches the back of his head. “I know she’s messed up, right now. I just wish she’d let me, I don’t know, in. The longer this takes… I just don’t know. Things were going well, right?”

The question has to wait. K’s phone vibrates loudly against the white Formica. It shakes in waves, as if it’s too weak to sustain more than few seconds. It startles them both. K looks down, waits for the third ring, then picks it up.

“Hello?... Yeah, I know it’s you. Call display, baby… Oh… Yeah… I… um… Are you sure?... Ok… No… Will you call me?... Listen, you’re ok, right?... Ok. Take care. I umm… Just take care, ok?” K hangs up. Puts the phone down.

GT knows what is happening before the call ends. He waits a moment. “Did she just…”

K: “Yeah. She’s leaving town. Doesn’t know for how long. She said she’d call. But…” He struggles to make eye contact with GT, but can’t do it for long.

GT’s hand is in the air, flagging down the waitress. “Miss, we’ll need a couple beers. Anything cold, sweetheart.”

* * *

It’s midnight. Maura’s car bumps along the old road to the O’Baird Lakefield home. She watches the road carefully. As she pulls up, she can tell it has been a while since anyone’s been here. It is the character of these old stone houses that they can wait for you longer than you’d think.

She’s too tired to make a bed and isn’t sure about the sheets, so she decides to sleep on the couch tonight. Lying on the couch, she pulls a picture of her and K at Café Ulysses out of a novel she’d stowed in her purse. She looks at it for a long time before placing it carefully back between the pages and the book on the dusty coffee table. She falls asleep staring at the painted wooden beams in the ceiling.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Oh My God

Oh My God – Snailhouse (listen in new tab)

Tuesday morning. This is how G.T. loses his job.

G.T. sits in Val Percy’s office and wonders how he got there. Of course, he knows how he got there, in a literal sense, like when people know how it rains. It’s a more Sibylline how, something closer to a why.

Val’s office is thick with well chosen austerity, as if a Victorian banker’s room had been transplanted and refinished with fearful memories of G.T. grade school principals. Authoritarian, with restrained flair.

She takes off her reading glasses, sets them on her desk beside the papers she was reading. Her hazel eyes, sharp and imminent, study G.T.’s face. It makes him self-conscious; he touches the side of his face, feels the tender skin around his eye.

“You had quite the weekend.” She’s direct. G.T. is relieved. His first three meetings had been painfully inflated by the thin altiloquence of executive pretence and privilege.

G.T. smiles. “I can’t deny it.”

He started at Percy, Bors, and Galahad Marketing in their call centre on the third floor. Since January, he moved from the cubicle farm to a shared office, through a few long weeks on the international sales circuit. Despite his inner recalcitrance, he found himself on the fast track, swept up by the quick money and two-handed handshakes.

But, it was his Friday night heroics that really made his name.

Monday morning, he was called from one executive to another. All of them, eyeing his shiner, told him he had balls. All of them qualified that statement with loose criticism that distanced them from G.T. Val was his fourth meeting. There wasn’t really anyone higher up the ladder left to push him out the door.

G.T. sits back in the high-backed leather chair Val had pointed to distractedly when he walked in. The chair yields in bizarre ways, causing him to squirm noticeably to keep his back from curving unnaturally.

Val watches him, her face composed with a vague look of displeasure and benign resolve. It causes G.T. to suddenly question how much he’s mattered to this company.

Val: “How’s your eye?” Something about her concern feels propped up, as if her interest in his well-being is provisional and will soon be taken down, carried away by men in grey overalls and put out back. The question feels non-recylable. G.T. knows now for sure that the fix is in. He feels oddly calm about what is about to happen.

G.T.: “Fine. Sore, I guess. That put a steak on it thing didn’t help much.”

Her expression remains set. “Well… [a long pause, during which she rubs the bridge of her nose] So, you attacked an executive at one of our largest clients.”

G.T.: “I like to get hands on with the clients.”

Val coughs a laugh. “Gregory, don’t make jokes. They called Monday morning. They called Bors in Tokyo, too. I have no idea what time it was there. Anyways, this guy at Agravaine, Gla- Glosh-”

G.T.: “Gloucester.”

Val: “Yeah. He’s got pull with half the board, Bors especially. I’ve never met him, but he does have one of those names, though.”

G.T.: “Like a Shakespearean villain?” He finds himself getting increasingly glib.

Val ignores his little flippancy. “Ok. We have to bend on this one. Agravaine is too big to us to have them complaining about your drunken shenanigans.”

G.T. points at his black-eye. “To my defence, it was their goons that gave me this.”

Val: “It doesn’t matter. We have to let you go.”

G.T.: “I figured.”

Val: “But, we won’t hang you out to dry. You’ll be taken care. A good severance and all that.” She reaches into a drawer and pulls out two envelopes. She holds them out so as to force G.T. to leave his sit to collect them. He sits back down. “One’s your dismissal. The other, it has a list of people you should call when your severance runs out.”

G.T. looks her straight in the eye, taps the envelopes lightly against his temple. “Thanks.”

Val: “You never liked it here, anyways.” It is a statement laden with sad affinity.

Security is waiting for him in his office. The two men watch silently with crossed arms as G.T. packs things into a box someone had left on his desk. His office mates had left post-its on their monitors that read “Back in 15”, or more likely whenever G.T.’s done and gone.

G.T. didn’t really need the box. Everything he wanted to keep fit into his satchel; the rest is tossed into the waste bins. He looks around the room as he slings his bag over his shoulder. The guards follow him to the elevator and ride down with him.

G.T.: “You guys do this a lot?”

Guard #1: “Sometimes.”

G.T.: “Was I fast?”

Guard #2: “Like in comparison? You’re ok. The last guy took forever. He cried.”

G.T.: “Really?” He can’t imagine shedding a tear over this place.

Guard #1: “Yeah. An older guy. I think he stole or something?”

G.T.: “Oh, yeah. That must have been Sammy. Who’d have thunk he’d cry.”

The elevator chimes the first floor. The doors slide open. G.T. is followed into the foyer, where he’s watched as he hands in his security.

Once he’s outside, the guards head back in. “Thanks, guys.” They ignore him, leaving him on the far off planet of Doesn’t Work Here Anymore.

Out in the sunny mid-morning. He is in a valley banked by blue and green glass. He reaches into his bag and pulls out the envelope Val gave him, the one with the numbers. He turns it in his hands thoughtfully as he walks. Before taking the stairs down to the subway, he lets the envelope drop indifferently into a waste bin.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Bombs Bomb Away

Bombs Bomb Away – Elephant Stone (listen in new tab)

Claire called a general staff meeting for Monday night. Café Ulysses had never had one before. For the auspicious occasion, she closed a little early and had Danielle push four tables together to form a sort of larger round table.

Claire stands by the door. It’s 9:00. She flips the sign from Open to Closed as K walks up. She opens the door for him.

K: “This is gonna be fun, isn’t it.”

Claire: “I’m excited.” She genuinely is.

Since Saturday, she’d turned the store inside out. She had pulled two old floppy pink notebooks out of her closet and then filled one, penning in list after list. Diagrams. Quick math. Contact ideas and numbers. Shift restructuring. Anything that she thought she might help.

By the time she was done, she had dismantled the ligaments of Esther’s Ulysses. After the gutting, Claire inscribed the first faded Hilroy with a new anatomy of the café’s future. The second is for the proceedings of tonight.

Zoe slouches in. She’s in her PJs. “I’ve been studying. Will this take long?”

And then Camille, the international student, saunters in with his usual cavalier smile. He sits, draping himself over a chair, calls out to Danielle to make him an espresso.

Danielle snorts at him, hands on hips. “The machine’s clean. You can make one, if you want to clean it.”

Camille: “Well.”

Claire: “There’s some fresh drip if you’re desperate.”

Camille: “Desperate times, indeed.” He pulls himself up and heads around the counter.

Lucile arrives next. She has been around since Claire started. She’s older, but shuns any responsibility. She’s married with two kids under four. She comes here to escape.

When Annette (she’s a veteran, too) arrives, she stumbles on the bottom of the door frame. She smiles coyly, tries to laugh it off. Lucile shoots her a cruel smile. They’ve never gotten along. Claire has to schedule them on opposite shifts.

Lucile: “At the bar?”

Annette: “Yeah. They’re waiting for me around the corner. Wanna come, mom?”

Claire has always imagined that they’re each jealous of the other.

Last to come is Hera. She bends over outside the door, hand to her chest. Her face is flushed. She ran from the subway stop to be close to on time. She comes in, locking the door behind her.

Claire waits in her chair for everyone to get a coffee and settle in. They make small talk. Hera and Danielle trade jokes. Camille slides in beside Annette, tries to chat her up. Lucile talks to Zoe about the cats out back. Claire looks from face to face. She doesn’t know if they’ve ever all been in one room.

K sits down at her right, pulling his chair awkwardly in, bumping the table with his knees. He looks down at the two notebooks she’s produced from her purse. He moves the grab one. Claire smacks his hand.

Claire opens the blank notebook to the first page. Places a pen beside it. She clears her throat. Stands up. “Ok. Let’s get started. I’m sure we all want to get home sometime tonight.”

Nervous laughter.

Her whole life, she’d never been much of a public speaker. She can talk to any one, one to one, customers, boys, anyone, but get up to make a speech and her throat starts to close in around her words.

She opens her mouth expecting no sound. She knows the facts that matter. “I don’t want this store to close. I’m sure that we all feel the same. But, we all know Ulysses hasn’t been doing as well lately.”

She is interrupted by a loud rap on the door. Without looking, Danielle, her arm hanging callously over the back of her chair, yells loudly: “We’re closed.”

But, K is out of his chair (making a loud scraping sound that causes Zoe to cover her ears in annoyance) and unlocking the door. G.T. comes in, sits at one of the tables against the windows.

Claire: “Do you want to join us?”

G.T. waves his hand as if to bat the idea away. “Ah, no. I’m not a voting member.” He gives her a reassuring smile.

Claire’s mind flits back to Saturday morning. She composes herself once more. Deep breath. “Ok. Like I was saying…” Her talk goes well. Well enough. She knew everyone wouldn’t be on board for all the changes right away. But, it’s a place to start, at least.

At the end, she asks for any last suggestions. Hera’s hand shoots up. Camille laughs.

Danielle: “You don’t have to raise your hand, dear.”

Hera drops her arm. “It’s just that I have a pretty good idea. You didn’t like it before, Claire. But, I really think it’ll help.” She reaches into her jacket pocket and pulls out a folded photocopied flyer. She flattens it quickly on the table. “Seriously, everyone, two words: Café Olympics.”

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Fair Verona

Fair Verona – Dan Mangan (listen in new tab)

Monday morning and the neighbourhood library branch is a slow crawl. The usuals are less frequent now that the weather’s nice. Though, by summer the heat will bake the city and drive them back. Outside the glass doors, Toronto grinds forward into the week, like always.

Ten o'clock. The library is all but empty. K and a co-op student from the Western’s Librarian program, Leslie (who thinks she knows everything, has boundless energy, and makes a lot less money doing K’s job) are the only staff on duty.

Leslie is done in a few weeks. K doesn’t hate her, but he will be happy to see her alacrity back on the streets of Ontario’s flimflam London. The boss, Eleanor, the “lets shake things up around here” replacement, is at a community outreach meeting. K doesn’t remember where or with whom. There will be a memo, assuredly.

Leslie completes some busy work on a promotional display about gardening. She wanders over to the reference desk, where K stands looking at his hands, palms up, fingers spread on the counter. He doesn’t know how long he’s been doing this.

Leslie: “Did someone ask about palmistry?”

K furrows his brow in soft mockery, but doesn’t look up. “No one’s here.”

Leslie: “I can see that. I was just… well. Nevermind. Do you know anything about palm reading?”

K: “Not a bit. I was just seeing if anything has changed.”

Leslie: “And?”

K thinks for a moment. He wishes he’d kept better track, maybe made a photocopy for future comparison. “I’m not sure I’d be able to tell.”

Leslie sticks her left hand under his face. “This is my life line. And this is my love line. And this is the number of kids I’ll have.” She traces along her palm with her index finger, pausing briefly at each landmark.

K: “Where did you learn that?”

Leslie: “Some woman in Grand Bend read my future once.”

K looks from her hands back to his, squinting, trying to drag an image from his memory: “And?”

Leslie shrugs. “She said it’d be a mixed bag.”

K: “A conservative gamble.” And why not, he thinks. Who’s got anything figured out? Three days ago, he felt like he was running smooth. But, it was a long weekend.

Leslie turns as the door opens. An older woman with a cane walks in. She smiles at Leslie and wanders into the fiction stacks. Seeing an opportunity to do some good, Leslie pushes off the counter and heads after her.

A few moments later, K hears her say: “Can I help you?” He can’t make out the reply.

He leans on his elbows. He doesn’t want to be here today. He wishes he could go see Maura. He’s desperate to speak to her again. But, she made it clear she needed a couple days’ space. She will call him. He must hold his imperturbation.

He showed up at her place Saturday morning. He was nursing a hangover, and found her wracked by a worse one. He started to make her breakfast. At first, she sat silently, head down, turning a cup of coffee in her hands. He started to tell her about the party. After all, he had shown up with more than one story he wanted to tell. Her absence from his last few days needed correcting through exposition.

His back was turned when she started. It was quiet, a shaky preamble. As she spoke, she gradually got louder. It took K a few moments to realize that she wasn’t going to wait for him to stop talking. Her words plowed through his chain of thought, a rogue wave of regret, fear, and uncertainty he didn’t know she possessed.

He turned around. She told him everything about the island and Edmund. What she remembered about the bodies. The years of wandering and nightmares. As she spoke, she looked straight through him, the cabinets, the wall, the city. Straight out, ignoring the curve of the planet. Out into space. And when she was done, she cried.

Maura felt beyond him, and K was at a loss.

He didn’t know much about real tragedies, only the minor sins and infelicities that had typified his life. Well mostly. He felt like maybe he has at worst one life’s blood on his hands. He was an accessory… involved by tacit collusion.

The thought made him drag Maura up into his arms. She sobbed into his shoulders. He held her to him. His hand on the back of her head. His fingers dove under her black hair.

Then she pushed herself away. She said quiet thanks and kissed him on the lips. “You should go, ok? I just need a few days. I’ll call you.”

She looks in him eyes through her smudged glasses, slightly askew from being pressed into him. “Ok. Call, ok?”, he said. She smiled weakly. He found it almost impossible to force himself out the door, but eventually he left her with the half cooked breakfast.

He didn't realize at first that he was waiting by the phone. Saturday afternoon, G.T. called. He went on about Claire. It sounded like he was finally going to break up with Brae. Later, K’s parents called. He listened absently about the garden, and the city ripping them off over garbage removal. His baby nephew was sick, but is better now. Reminders to make calls to grandparents.

That night, he sat on the couch and drank ginger tea as he watched old movies on TVO. In one, two now-dead stars tried to fall in love again. K regretted that he hadn’t told Maura that Shannon had come to see him. Instead he’d been forced him to file it under “Some Other Time, if Maybe it Matters." The idea seemed complicated, and he wanted to keep things simple.

Sunday, was indolent and overwrought. His feet up on the couch, he tried to parse everything. This new Maura. Shannon. Claire and the threat to Ulysses. He read. Watched old TV shows on DVD. Went for a walk. Ordered Thai food. No one called.

And now he stands in the library, studying his hands when Leslie comes back.

K: “What did she want?”

Leslie: “Books where cats are the detectives. People are weird.”

K examines his palms one last time, before shoving them in his pocket: “I suppose our lives don’t bear much scrutiny.”

Leslie scratches her forehead. “Ummm. I just meant that…”

K: “It’s ok. You don’t really get used to the stuff that people bring up around here.”

Monday, April 19, 2010

On Directing

On Directing – Tegan & Sara (listen in new tab)

Her feet drive hard into the sidewalk and spring her away from the earth with each stride. She imagines herself making small craters in the concrete. She’s found her pace as her skin begins to glaze with sweat; her shirt and running shorts cling to her skin, damp with the early morning spring air.

She breathes out. In. Her lungs fill with cool wet air from last night’s rain. Her mouth forms the words: “I don’t know what I’m doing.” They sound thin, harsh with exertion. The sentence collapses. Each word collides into the other, a Doppler pile-up against her lips, before they slide across her reddened, runner’s blushed cheeks. They curve and roll over the headphones stuck to her ear by sweat. Then they are lost in the vortexes created by her bobbing pony tail.

Shannon started running after she moved in with her parents. The doctor told her the exercise would help. Give her something to focus on, something to pull her out of her head. Before the abortion, she’d been a creature of infinite terrifying density, and after too. But now, right now, she feels like she can shake that off each time she bites hard on the cliché: harder, faster, push yourself. She wants to be a current, an article of flow and flux.

Today will be a long run. She’s training for the coming gauntlet of charity 10k races. Maybe a 20k later in the summer.

Really: she has a lot to purge from her mind. Each stride, each cycle of breath, her mind spins. She wants to lose herself in her repetitious body, but it’s too early in her run for that.

Later. Don’t think about it.

She counts footsteps out loud, repeats mantras, encouragements. But between each assertion of not thinking about it, her thoughts wedge in.

Why see K now? What did you expect?

She wanted to see him the moment Claire told her about K and Maura being together. Claire had waited a long time to say anything about it. She is a good friend that way. How is her store doing? Shannon hasn’t been since Claire bought it.

She turns a corner, heads through an empty suburban park. No one is out this early on a Saturday. The isolation helps.

Over the last few days she dissected her visit with K. Everything he said about his life, the library, Ulysses’s. The sparse way he discussed Maura. His body language as he listened to Shannon’s account of slow improvements. The old jokes. The new ones.

He’s the same; the same scattered goofball, holding onto a few too many threads. The same irresistible way he makes connections between everything.

It doesn’t matter. She can’t interpret any one thing’s importance.

Except: as he walked her back to the subway they held hands (for like 45 seconds). Unconscious habit? Where does that come from? When he realized, he let go and apologized, scratching absently at the back of his head (as he always does). She liked the shaky familiarity of having K near her - of the casual firmness of his hand holding hers, their fingers knitted. Even for those brief moments.

The intimacy is a tempting, well-tread path, now neglected and overgrown with peregrine change. He said to call him sometime. She wants to and doesn't want to. She utters a curse on the static pull of this indecisiveness.

She passes a  faded plastic and metal play structure that sits where the park path forks (or reconnects). She's happy she doesn't have to make a decision right now.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Hello It’s Me

Hello It’s Me – Todd Rundgren (listen in new tab)

The old clock radio crackles alive, doing its best to make its low, muffled and dispersed noise, drawing in the weak, aging oscillations of the AM band.

It’s a familiar and lonely sound. Like visits to old age homes; music sitting almost quiet, almost in stillness. Songs we all know the words to, but would never ask to hear. Like memories we wish we could shoot into space, but instead they just bounce around the stratosphere of our brains.

Maura’s mouth is pasty, dry. Her nose is crusted, smells faintly of vomit. Her stomach is scratched bare, suddenly cavernous and empty. She puts a hand to her forehead, finding that her arm is surprisingly weak and that her forehead throbs ungratefully when she touches it.

The world is blurry. She fumbles for her glasses, finding them with relief in one of their three usual spots. She looks at the dusty, browned garage sale clock radio, slapping uselessly at it to turn it off. The button appears to be jammed. “Stupid thing.” She regrets the one dollar she’d paid for it.

It’s 8:30, Saturday. The drapes are closed. A crack of sun sneaks in, making a line across the floor. Over the bed and her almost naked body, before disappearing in shadows. She must have slept over the covers.

She tries not to smell her own breath. The taste of stale rye and sick mix uncomfortably. She wonders what she had been thinking. Maybe she hoped she’d wake up with more resolve, a sense of strength. But, really she just wanted to sleep. She wanted to sleep so soundly and securely, so surely cupped in the cold hands of dreamlessness.

But her dreams were warm with hurt and too familiar. Three days since she realized Edmund was in Toronto. Two restless nights during which she tortured herself and twisted the knife further for doing this to herself. The third night she flattened herself with whiskey.

Brae watched her get drunk, offered her consolation. But Maura couldn’t tell her everything. She wanted to. But the words still choked in her throat and cruelly pooled in her mind at night.

And like the last two nights, she dreamt (Are they dreams if they happened?) about a pacific island.

She was fresh out of school, then. The O’Baird family was a legacy of seafarers and travelers that fueled her blood. She wanted an adventure.

At 22, she signed on with a company that worked with indigenous peoples in those places the multinational companies caress with their wet mouths and sharp claws. She was sent to some far flung island to help people fight forced relocation by oil companies.

Exotic locales, peoples in need, the endless battle of the righteous. It was eye-opening.

And then she fell in love. Mr. Edmund Gloucester walked up to her, unstrugglingly handsome in the tropical heat. But even then his eyes were clouds, behind which a hotter sun burned. They met in a bar on a beach, one of those shacks that leaned against the forest, your feet sinking into alabaster sand as you got drunk.

Two months on the island and she was swept away by him. One day after a few weeks, he stopped her on the road, made her come back to his hotel room and he confessed his heart. He worked for one of the oil concerns, Agravaine International, and he was risking his job by seeing her. She realized she was, too.

When she kissed him, pressing her body up against his, it didn’t matter. They were on fire for each other. They were in love. It was bigger than everything. It didn’t matter.

But, it did. Soon, she was spending less time on the job, less time paying attention to the white men and their translators sent by the oil men.

And then Edmund suggested they head to Sydney for a weekend. He had the time off and would foot the bill if she couldn’t afford it (she couldn’t, not on her pitiful martyrs salary). Her colleagues were off island to help coordinate a different project, and she hadn’t left the island in four months. She went. He proposed to her in the nicest restaurant she’d ever seen. The ring slid on with casual care. It fit snug with somnolescent weight.

Years later, she still isn’t sure that Edmund wasn’t in love with her. Maybe Agravaine played him, too. It’s irrelevant now, indistinguishable from the fact that while she was in Sydney (on a trip that was unblinkingly extended three days), the oil company undid all the work she and her colleagues had done.

When she got back. They were loading people on busses. Bull-dozers were standing ready. Some of the community elders stood their ground with their wives and children. They were unprepared to leave. As the buses rocked and rumbled away, these people stood, staring down tractors and armed men.

Maura stood helplessly with her colleagues, cordoned by angry company men with rifles. It looked like it would stay static and angry forever, but there was a scuffle and a young man from the village grabbed a gun and fired. The bullet bounced harmlessly off a bulldozer’s blade, disappearing in a puff of sand.

It was a cue. The men with guns fired back. Thus, their problem with the locals was solved. The village had been there for over a hundred years, maybe more. And it was gone in a little under an hour.

That night she went to see Edmund. He said he didn’t know anything about it. Maura’s mind was torn with rage. She couldn’t hear him, his eyes and his words didn’t match. She threw his ring at him hoping the diamond would gouge a hole through him. Instead, it bounced off his shirt, landing heavy and small on the floor.

Then she quit the aid agency and went to teach English in Taiwan and then Africa. The faces of the dead villagers followed her night and day and then stopped once they felt satisfied with the weight of her guilt. It took three years. The next week she moved back to Toronto.

In three days, Edmund had unraveled everything she tried to put back together.

She listens, prostrate in bed, to the song the radio offers. It is an old jukebox favourite of Edmund's. They slow danced to it once. She quickly puts that aside.

There is a familiar knock on her door. She knows it’s K.